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Social identity and Stigma- Goffman

A stigma is an attribute that is deeply discrediting to an individual. When someone is reduced in the eyes of others from a multifaceted person to a person with one tainted status. The attribute dominates both the stigmatized person’s interaction with others and the way others think about the person. Goffman was interested in social encounters known as mixed contacts – where interactions are between stigmatized persons and normal. Goffman did not use the term normal in the sense of well adjusted or healthy. Instead he used it to refer to people who are in the majority or who possess no discreding attributes in a particular setting. The determination of normal or stigmatized status depends on the social context. Goffman wrote that mixed contacts are the moments when stigmatized and normal are in the same social situation, in one another’s immediate physical presence whether in a conversation like encounter or in the mere co-presence of an unfocused gathering. When normals and stigmatized persons interact, the stigma attached to one characteristic such as skin color, hair texture or eye shape comes to dominate the interaction. Such dynamics are especially evident in the situations where race matters. A stigma can come to dominate interaction in many ways. The very anticipation of contact can cause normals and stigmatized individuals to avoid one another. This is to escape one another’s scrutiny. People may prefer interacting with others of the same race or ethnicity to interacting with people of a different race or ethnicity to avoid the discomfort, rejection and suspicion they encounter from those who differ from them.Goffman suggests that the stigmatized individual has good reason to feel anxious about mixed social interaction and that normal will find these situations shaky too. Normals may feel that if they show direct sympathy toward a stigmatized person they will be calling attention to the differences when they should be colorblind. Normals may also feel that a stigmatized person is too ready to read unintended meanings into the actions. They also try to avoid each other because they believe that widespread social disapproval will undermine any relationship. The response of avoidance is related to a second pattern that characterizes mixed contacts. Upon meeting they are unsure how the other views them or will act towards them. A third pattern characteristic of mixed contacts is that normals often define accomplishments by the stigmatized as signs of remarkable and noteworthy capacities or as evidence that they have met someone from a minority group who is an exception to the rule. In the fourth pattern normals tend to interpret a stigmatized person’s failings both major and minor as related to the stigma. The stigmatized are likely to experience invasion of privacy especially when people stare. Goffman describes five ways that the stigmatized respond to people who fail to accord them respect or who treat them as members of a category. This response includes changing the visible cultural and physical characteristics believed to represent barrier to status and belonging.

  • They may attempt to correct the source of stigma. This response includes changing the visible cultural and physical characteristics believed to represent barriers to status and belonging.
  • Devoting a great deal of time and effort to overcoming stereotypes or to appearing as they are in full control of everything around them. The stigmatized may try to be perfect, to outperform everyone,
  • People may use their subordinate status for secondary gains including personal profit or as an excuse for ill success that has come their way for other reasons.
  • To view discrimination as a blessing in disguise especially for its ability to build character or for what it teaches about life and humanity.
  • A stigmatized person can condemn all the normals and view them negatively.

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